A Songwriter Special

If asked to name my very favorite songwriters ever, my response list might vary a bit over time depending on what I’ve been listening to, or not listening to, of late, but I can guarantee that two names will always appear quickly and emphatically in my replies: Jed Davis and Andy Prieboy.

They’re both brilliant lyricists and masters of melody, and (even better) they’re also both astute arrangers, tremendous singers and keyboardists, and aces at recruiting and working with just the right musicians to bring their music to life. Prieboy and Davis have done fine work with various bands (Wall of Voodoo and Eye Protection in the former’s case; Collider, Skyscape, The Hanslick Rebellion, Jeebus and others in the latter’s), but they are also wildly accomplished as solo artists under their own banners. And while both of them craft fine stand-along songs, both have also composed long-form theatrical works: Prieboy having penned and performed in White Trash Wins Lotto (which does not exist as a complete studio recording), while Davis’ Rise and Shine stands thus far as a truly great New York song cycle with its first “two days” (of five) having seen studio release to date. When all ~40 songs are complete and released, I’m hopeful to see the full-scale staging it most emphatically deserves. (If you’re an angel investor looking for a winning pick, I can certainly put you in touch with Jed to spend your money wisely).

Why do I write about these two favorite songwriters today? Because both of them have released excellent new albums this month, both of which bring fresh interpretations to songs from their deep catalogs. Prieboy’s One and One Make Three features a dozen songs written between 1979 and 2020, “re-recorded and arranged as I originally conceived them,” he explains in the record’s liner notes, adding that “my first duty, after all, is to the music and the lyrics.” Davis’ Failing Upwards includes his own dozen numbers composed between 1997 and 2021, organized thematically into six linked pairs of songs, where (per Jed) “the first song in each pair is about doing something because you have to do it; the second is about doing that same thing because you want to.” The songs presented on these records play to both artists’ storytelling strengths, with cohesive, real-world narratives delivered with just the right mixes of pathos and passion, horror and humor, keen observations into the beauty of the human experiences, and occasional visits to the ugly places where the best stories often lurk.

Prieboy’s collaborators on One and One Make Three include all of the surviving members of the outstanding Wall of Voodoo line-up he fronted over three albums (that would be Chas T. Grey, Bruce Moreland, and Ned Leukhardt; Marc Moreland died in 2002), superb blues guitarist (and former Eye Protection member) John Maxwell, drummer David Kendrick (Sparks, Devo, Gleaming Spires) and the late, great cow-punk pioneer Tony Kendrick (The Dils, Rank and File), among others. Stalwart Davis collaborators Mike Keaney and Alex Dubovoy both appear on Failing Upwards, alongside an incredible assortment of stellar players, including (but not limited to) the also late and also great Ralph Carney, Brian Dewan, Anton Fig, Reeves Gabrels, Juliana Hatfield, Tony Levin, Earl Slick, Dweezil Zappa and three erstwhile Ramones: Tommy (RIP), C.J. and Marky. Both records are exceptionally well recorded, with their featured songs deployed in rich and varied settings, covering various styles, idioms, and moods. Both records feature numerous ear-worm melodies that will stick in your brain box, while the deft wordplay in which both artists excel is in full flower throughout these records’ runs.

While there are many commonalities and similarities in the structures of these two albums, and in my affection for and appreciation of their creators’ work, and in the consistently high quality of the songwriting and performances that Prieboy and Davis offer, there are also, of course, notable differences between the pair.

Davis is a Long Island native whose personal and professional lives have generally orbited around New York City, occasionally being sucked into its bowels by its formidable gravitational attraction, including several years living in and working from “The Ramones Loft,” where he collaborated with that great group’s brilliant artistic director, Arturo Vega (another RIP entry). Jed’s songs, stories, and styles are often evocative of the punk and post-punk scenes of the Lower East Side (he’s super-skilled at recognizing and pulling the beating pop hearts from those idioms’ twitchy carcasses), and of the theatricality of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway (its bright lights casting long shadows, within which its ugly, unseen, and more interesting roots are anchored), and of the vast cultural and musical sprawls of the outer boroughs and the suburban and exurban stretches surrounding the great megalopolis at the mouths of Hudson’s River. Beyond his musical chops, he’s also a brilliant graphic designer and artist (his videos and album covers provide proof on that point), and his keen observational skills and ability to transmit information and intention quickly and with lasting power serve his songs and lyrics just as well as they serve his visual works.

Prieboy, for his part, was raised in Indiana before decamping to California as a young man to become a rock star (as one does, when one lives in Indiana, and one does not wish to become a steel-worker, or a farmer, or a right-wing politician), falling into various seedy and tawdry scenes in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles, from which he emerged with far better stories than most anybody who you and I are ever likely to know. He is the long-time life partner of Emmy and Writers Guild Award-winning writer Merrill Markoe, who earns an “Editor” credit on his new album. (The pair’s 2004 collaborative novel The Psycho-Ex Game is a highly recommended hoot, if you need a good book to chew on). Prieboy’s work often evokes Hollywood (Babylon Division), including the great cinematic musicals (and their Vaudeville by way of Gilbert and Sullivan roots) that stand as artifacts of Tinseltown’s gloriously garish past, and the Spaghetti Western scores that once made so many bad actors seem good when their gunfights were properly sound-tracked. He spins big stories from small scenes, and he’s a master at finding grace and poignancy in tales about the people who most other people miss, misunderstand, or malign.

The temporal breadth of both of these albums stands as ample evidence of the consistent excellence in which both of these master songwriters have traded, for decades and decades. It also provides testimony affirming their judicious curation and control of their catalogs, as these albums were not just rush-released, half-baked upon conception, but instead were given the time to ripen, or to be re-evaluated, or to be reclaimed when the time was right, and the right players had the time, to make them everything that they needed to be. I know I will be considering both of these discs near the top of the heap when I do my 31st Annual Albums of the Year Report in December 2022. I most emphatically encourage you to score and enjoy them now, as a perfect pair of long-players from an equally perfect pair of performers, who are writing, singing and playing at the top of their most formidable games.

I’ll embed a pair of videos that, I think, provide great introductory peeks into these albums’ guts, if you need some sonic proof to back up my laudatory words, or if your curiosity’s piqued and it needs a good scratching:

You can also click on the images of these two album covers below to nab your own copies, which are available via most of the usual streaming, download, and sales services. And if you’d like to learn more about these artists, feel free to use the search block in the top right sidebar on this website, as I’ve written boodles about both of them over the years. And hope that I will get to do so again, and again, and again . . .

2 thoughts on “A Songwriter Special

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, July 23 2022 – Chuck The Writer

  2. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, July 16 2022 – Chuck The Writer

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